Donkey (Equus asinus)


Family:                    Equidae.

Status:                     No special status.

Size:                        Height 11 to 16 hands; weight up to 950 lbs (430 kg).

Diet:                        Herbivore.

Characteristics:        Social.

Area:                       North America, Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia.

Offspring:                1 foal.



·       Donkeys were first domesticated over 5,000 years ago because of their usefulness to people.

·       In ancient Egypt, it was once considered a status symbol to own donkeys.

·       The wild donkey was first introduced to America by Spaniards in the 1500s.

·       The scientific name is Latin, meaning Equus (horse) and asinus (ass). 

·       Other names for the donkey are burro (Spanish) or ass.



Like horses, donkeys are social animals that travel in herds. Unlike horses, when they’re startled, they don’t spook and run. Instead, a donkey’s natural instinct is to freeze, or to run only a short distance and then turn to see what the disturbance was. Donkeys have long ears, which provide them with excellent hearing. They’re easily able to survive in their desert homes because of their ability to survive a loss of as much as 30% water from their body weight without perishing, unlike humans who need immediate attention if they lose 10% water from their body weight. As well, a donkey can replenish the loss in five minutes of drinking water, while a human needs to drink water on and off for an entire day. There are many different colours and patterns found on donkeys, but the most common donkey is gray coloured. Donkeys don’t have chestnuts on their hind legs like horses, and have only five lumbar vertebrae (horses have six). The donkey’s tail is tufted, more like that of a cow than the flowing tail found on a horse. In captivity, donkeys perform a number of useful tasks because of their calm, patient, affectionate natures. In the past they were used as beasts of burden, and today they’re used as companions for newly weaned foals and nervous or injured animals. Donkeys mix easily with other types of animals such as sheep, cows, llamas, horses and goats, and have even been known to protect smaller animals from predators. Because donkeys don’t spook and are passive by nature, they’re sometimes used instead of horses in recreational riding programs for children and handicapped people.



Wild donkeys originated in the deserts of Africa and were brought by travellers to nearly every area of the world. Prospectors used them during the gold rush of the 1800s, and many donkeys outlived their owners, who sometimes succumbed to the harsh and dry weather of the desert. Some were set free after the gold rush came to a close, creating herds of feral donkeys throughout the deserts of the South West. The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was put into place in 1971 to protect and manage the equines on public lands. Each year, the Bureau of Land Management captures 9,000 horses and donkeys to put up for adoption under the National Wild Horse and Burro Program.



A female donkey generally has one foal per year, and goes through a gestation period of 12 months. At birth, the foal weighs from 19 to 30 pounds and it can stand and nurse within about 30 minutes of being born. At about 5 months of age, the foal is weaned, but it has begun to graze well before that time. Mothers are extremely protective of their offspring and will attack any animal that threatens it. Females don’t usually reproduce until they’re at least two years of age. Female donkeys are called Jennets or Jennies, while males are called Jacks or Johns. Wild donkeys live to an average of 25 to 30 years in the wild, but have been known to live as long as 40 or 50 years in captivity.